Pennsylvania Legislature Passes Education Bills Without Level Up Funding

Of the $175M budgeted for school facility repairs, $100M comes from funding previously earmarked for the Level Up program.

Penn Wood High School in the William Penn School District. Landsdowne, Pennsylvania on June 15. (Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star)

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Nearly six months after the 2023-24 fiscal year began, the Legislature passed education funding code bills on Wednesday. The passage of House Bill 301 and Senate Bill 843 allocates millions in state dollars to various education-related initiatives.

The previously stalled HB 301 allocates more than $300 million to libraries and community colleges, $100 million to school mental health services and $175 million to school facility repairs.

Of the $175 million budgeted for school facility repairs, such as mold and asbestos abatement, $100 million comes from funding previously earmarked for the Level Up program, which prioritizes the state’s 100 poorest school districts.

State Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) said that the change was offered as a compromise by lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House to the GOP-led Senate who would not support the measure.

“Given what we’ve seen from the Senate, they weren’t going to accept it [Level Up] so we compromised on more money for facilities,” Schweyer told the Capital-Star.

The bill also allocates $150 million to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, which provide tax breaks to businesses contributing monetary donations to scholarships and other educational funds across the Commonwealth.

The programs have faced criticism from Democrats and public school advocates, who say the programs are discriminatory and favor private schools, but House Republicans celebrated the funding in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Thanks to the hard work of Pennsylvania Republicans, we can ensure the continuation of programs that prevent children from failing alongside Pennsylvania’s failing education system,” Joshua Kail (R-Beaver) said.

Republican leaders said that delays in passing the school code and fiscal code, which are usually passed concurrently with the main part of the budget, the general appropriations bill, have deprived community colleges, libraries and 911 centers of funding since July, when lawmakers hit an impasse over a proposed school voucher program.

“I think what we’ve seen is a consistent failure of leadership on behalf of the House Democrats in terms of actually completing the budget on time,” Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said. “You saw the spectacle that was just on the floor regarding what they did want to spend time on, which is really unfortunate,” Cutler said, referencing a debate on a resolution honoring singer Taylor Swift. “It’s been a lot of wasted time and opportunities.”

More than a month after the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an unfinished $45.5 billion budget while negotiations continued.

The bills now head to Shapiro’s desk for final approval.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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